Ireland is a country that blends the old with the new. Modern development occurs next to age old structures. Once a country whose nationals would move overseas for opportunity, Ireland now retains its own nationals as well as attracting foreign visitors and investment. As a member of the European Union (EU), Ireland is able to capitalize on all the economic benefits this association affords.
The Republic of Ireland is a parliamentary democracy. Legislative power rests with a bicameral National Parliament, Oireachtas Éireann, with a 60-member Senate or Seanad, and a 166-member House of Representatives or Dáil. Members of Oireachtas serve a five-year term.
The head of state is the President, whose position is largely ceremonial. Executive power rests with the Prime Minister or Taoiseach, and Cabinet, appointed by the President on recommendation of the Dáil. The Taoiseach and the cabinet are responsible to the Dáil. Ireland's legal system is based on English Common Law with an independent judiciary.
While some Irish still choose to emigrate, many young Irish are returning home or choosing to stay. The cities of the Republic are not only bustling with a bright young population, but the economy is humming with new technology, increasing investment, and growing per-capita income. High-tech business has quickened the pace of life. Ireland's reputation as a center for modern business and culture has grown rapidly.
Ireland joined the euro currency system in January 1999 as a founding member, which encouraged international investment. The Irish economy sustained an impressive growth record during the 1990s with lower inflation, markedly lower unemployment rates (from a record high of 17 percent during the mid-1980s), and a national budget surplus. Over a 30-year period, starting in 1973 when the country joined the EU, Ireland received billions of euro in funding from the EU to improve roads, bolster education, and support local industries. International investment has increased dramatically as a result.
The six northeastern counties of the island are collectively known as Northern Ireland, and are part of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland has long been a source of controversy. Talks have gone on for years between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and its political wing, Sinn Féin, and the northern Ulster Unionists.
After years of intermittent negotiations and violence, a peace treaty was signed in April 1998. In addition, significant compromises have been made on both sides of the conflict in recent years. The Royal Ulster Constabulary, long considered to be a Unionist force, was renamed the Police Force of Northern Ireland and assigned equal Catholic and Protestant hiring ratios. The Irish Republican Army announced an end to its armed campaign in 2005, and international weapons inspectors supervised their disarmament. These actions have done a great deal to stem the violence of the Troubles.
Ireland is rich in tradition, much of it related to the Roman Catholic Church and centuries-old grievances against the English. Although some things stay the same - many pubs remain as they were a century or more ago - many things have definitely changed. Attitudes toward the Roman Catholic Church and its social positions are changing also, with more younger Irish attending church less and considering Church positions on abortion, contraception, and divorce dated.
The Irish love to sing, talk and embellish a story. They are warm and hospitable to the many expatriates who live among them.